Netflix's upcoming live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender TV show has the potential to make up for and be better than M. Night Shyamalan's 2010 movie, The Last Airbender. Premiering on Nickelodeon in 2005, Avatar: The Last Airbender introduced viewers to Aang, Katara and Sokka, three young people living in a world beset by war. Their world is populated by people who can "bend" one of four different elements, becoming Firebenders, Earthbenders, Waterbenders and Airbenders. While Katara is a Waterbender, Aang is the last Airbender and the latest in a long line of powerful benders called the Avatar who has the ability to master all four elements. Much of the show follows Aang as he learns to master the elements and prepare to take on Fire Lord Ozai, the conqueror who seeks to rule the world.
The show was created by Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, combining elements from American-style cartoons and Japanese anime, with a great deal of influence from Inuit, East Asian and South Asian cultures. Avatar: The Last Airbender ran for three seasons on Nickelodeon, concluding in 2008. Following its conclusion, Shyamalan's The Last Airbender hit theaters in 2010, and was criticized by fans of the show for "racebending" the characters, a term coined specifically for the movie's practice of changing the races of its main characters. The movie also received largely negative reviews from critics and resoundly flopped at the domestic box office with $131 million (on a budget of $150 million), though the movie earned a total of $319 million worldwide.
Still, The Last Airbender is widely regarded as a stain on the legacy of Avatar: The Last Airbender, which spawned the spinoff series The Legend of Korra that ran for four seasons on Nickelodeon from 2012-2014. As a result, fans of the original animated show may have been dismayed by news of Netflix developing a live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender series. However, with Konietzko and DiMartino returning as showrunners on the new project, there's hope to be had that Netflix's series will be a worthwhile addition to the Avatar universe. In fact, Netflix's live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender TV show can make up for the failure of Shyamalan's The Last Airbender.
- This Page: The Original Creators Are Involved This Time
- Next Page: TV Adaptation & No Racebending or Whitewashing
The Original Creators Are Involved This Time
Although Konietzko and DiMartino created the property on which Shyamalan's The Last Airbender was based, the duo were not very involved in bringing the movie to life. Neither are listed as producers on the film, they're simply credited for creating the show that the film draws inspiration from. In the years since the movie came out, the pair have spoken about their feelings on it, with Konietzko saying in a 2014 interview with IGN, "I’d like to see it not exist." In another 2014 interview, with the Nerdist Writers Panel podcast, Konietzko elaborated by saying that he and DiMartino didn't want the movie to be done in the first, and if it were to be done, they wanted to be the ones to do it. However, Paramount Pictures recruited M. Night Shyamalan instead and Konietzko said he and DiMartino tried to offer help but they had a "big falling out" with the movie team. Ultimately, Konietzko called The Last Airbender a "wasted opportunity."
All that's to say, Shyamalan and the studio had the resource of consulting the original creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender when adapting the show, but didn't use it. While it's not always necessary for film productions to consult the creators of a source material while adapting it for the big screen, it's not a bad idea either, especially when the property in question is as beloved as Avatar: The Last Airbender. In the end, The Last Airbender came off as a slap in the face of fans of the show, changing important aspects of the universe - including the main characters' races - to suit the studio and director's vision rather than honor the source material. And the end result, the movie itself, wasn't very good, as evidenced by the reviews.
However, Konietzko and DiMartino are not only involved with the Netflix show, they're showrunners on the project, which gives them the same amount of creative control as they had on the original Nickelodeon show. As such, they'll be involved in every step of the adaptation process, bringing the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender to live-action in a way that's much more truthful to the universe than Shyamalan's film - and that includes the format of the new show as well as the way the characters are cast.